I am doing a piano course and am currently about 90% of the way to the end. In the beginning of the course they teach C position, D position and G position in both main octaves and then later it extends to other positions. In the beginning pretty much all the melodies you play stay within a 5 note range and then later on you do pinky stretches and thumb stretches until, towards the end of the course, it really seems that there are no positions because the hand is moving around so much. So my question, is why do they teach you these positions when in most songs, the melody will never stay in such a small range. Is playing in a "position" just a beginners thing? Or do advanced players use positions?
It sounds like you are learning "five-finger position." It depends on the passage, but you could extend out with fingers 1 or 5...
There are also basic positions for playing chords with your fingers spaced out. Eventually you learn techniques for changing between positions. This uses a few positions...
...first a chord position on
C, then a five-finger portion that would conceptually be on
F, then another five-finger position on
I never learned "positions." I did learn fingering. I believe they serve the same purpose. They strive to teach you habits that you will need for more complex songs.
At a lower level, you can be quite inefficient with your fingering choices and still make music. The songs are simple enough for that. As you progress, the songs get more complex. Eventually they start pushing the physical limits of what the human body can do. If you are being inefficient with your fingering, you simply wont be able to hit the notes you need to hit (or at least not with the tone quality and precision needed to sound great).
Of course, we can't start on songs that demonstrate this complexity. We need to start simple. So every piano course I am aware of has some constraint that they apply to force you to do the "right" fingering. I put "right" in quotes, of course, because there often isn't a "right" fingering. But what you do have is a fingering which the developers of the curriculum found were effective in teaching the habits that you are going to want to have later on.
And, on one day, it will indeed matter, like this delightful little message found in Jon Schmidt's All of Me:
position is a mean for trans-position!
E.g.: block chords, motifs, passages etc.
Mind how often we have to play an imitation of the subject from another degree like the dux and comes in a fugue. In all such cases of imitation or development of a figuration you are very comfort to know the positions.It also helps to analyze and memorize a piece. You just realize this is the imitation of the theme on another tone or degree, e.g. diatonic transposition, and you don’t read and mind the single notes but the whole figure and pattern recognizing the interval of transposition and sequenzes.
I guess, the idea is to accustom the student to choosing efficient fingerings for a melody. I've never been taught the concept of positions, but I've been taught to choose my fingering in a way that
prefers positioning fingers on adjacent diatonic notes
avoids any jumps (sometimes not possible, techniques for changing position are helpful here)
moves the hand around the least amount possible.
If you play by these rules, you'll quickly realize that you are doing exactly what you've been taught by doing positions. With the only difference that you've only been taught the results, not the principles. (I'm thankful to my teachers that they taught me the principles, for they can be applied in a much broader way without needing to remember so much.)
I was taught classical piano in Poland - and we have no notion of "positions" you speak of, nor any tradition of teaching them (that's the first time I hear about them). Pianists are expected to play scales and passages (there are separate exams for that) using the established fingering, but there's no "fingering theory" at any stage.
Probably the rules are learned through osmosis - and in real pieces they would be MUCH more complex than what you are describing. The only two pieces of "theory" I recall is: "try avoid 1 and 5 on black keys", "use whatever the book suggests". At later stages, when working with harder pieces, finding the best possible fingering is considered a part of student's work - each hand is a bit different and sometimes finding the "right" fingering makes a tricky passage playable.
This sounds like 'over-thinking' things to be honest. With stringed instruments, positions are a 'thing' in that you think about starting frets maybe more than with a piano, where any note is more-or-less available quickly. It would be more constructive to ensure firstly that all five fingers in each hand, particularly the left, are strong and nimble. Most amateur pianists have weak fourth and fifth fingers, particularly in the left hand, and this leads them to awkward fingering in an attempt to avoid using those fingers. Instead, I would purchase a copy of Hanon's exercises and practice these for half an hour a day - yes, boring, I know but they will greatly strengthen those weak fingers and then encourage you to actually use them. At that point to be honest fingering is more an issue of preference than some kind of divine law and if you also practice your scales as well as Hanon you'll soon start using the patterns you memorise when playing pieces of music. Finally, remember the Prime Directive. It is far far better to play the wrong note at the right time than the right note at the wrong time. If you are rhythmically all over the place pausing to find notes, you need to slow down until you can play a piece with accurate rhythm. The odd wrong note is something you just gloss over and plough on - even professional musicians make mistakes, they just don't stop to think about them. Now go have fun!.